AFC logo
Aylesbury Festival Choir
The Choir - A Brief History - 'A Choir Member Speaks' - Carol Singing At Christmas - Photo Gallery
A Brief History

The story of the choir begins in the early 1950s, when David Aylett organised an ad hoc group of singers, mainly from local churches, to go carol-singing to raise money for the ‘Save the Children Fund’. The next year being World Refugee Year, the group organised a formal concert with full orchestra and the international soprano Isobel Baillie as soloist, raising the equivalent of £1,000 for the fund. Following the success of this, the choir was permanently founded in 1958 as the December Festival Choir, and began to give formal performances of the standard choral repertoire of oratorios and masses, as well as concert versions of operas and other lighter works. The Choir was renamed the Aylesbury Festival Choir in January 2001 to reflect our close association with the town.

David conducted the choir for 26 years. He was succeeded by Helen Blakeman and, in 1995, by Piers Maxim, our first professional conductor and now our President. Under Piers’ expert direction the Choir continued to develop and flourish, expanding the repertoire to include 20th Century works. Justin Doyle succeeded Piers in May 2001, and was in turn succeeded by Madeleine Venner (Lovell) in March 2006. Piers, Justin and Madeleine have all gone on to illustrious roles in the music world.

For our November 2008 concert, which showcased the première of With Voice Divine, a major new work written by David Aylett specially for the Choir’s Golden Anniversary, we were very pleased to welcome back guest conductor William Carlsake, who has led us less formally on many enjoyable occasions.

Since January 2009, we have been delighted to welcome James Davey as our new Musical Director. James, who is also conductor of Chantage, the BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year 2006, joined us with a wealth of experience, training choirs of all ages, and has already made his mark in putting us through our paces thoroughly but with his wonderful quiet humour.

The Choir continues to be supported by high calibre soloists and musicians. That our concerts are known for their high standards of performance and presentation is testament to the vision, commitment and enthusiasm of many people whose varied talents, expertise and hard work behind the scenes have enabled the Choir to flourish throughout its long history.


To get an insight into what it is
like to sing in our choir,
read a choir member's
interview in
'A Choir Member Speaks'

choir members
A Choir Member Speaks - Viv's Interview  

Q: How many years have you been a member of Aylesbury Festival Choir?

A: I joined the choir in January 2009.  It was my 60th year and I was determined to be brave and do something I'd always wanted to do.

Q: Why did you choose Aylesbury Festival Choir?

A: I have always loved singing but not had the opportunity or courage to do anything about it. So I googled choirs in Aylesbury and of the two that came up AFC didn't say anything about auditions. I don't think I would have considered it if I'd had to be auditioned. I turned up for the first rehearsal of Handel's Messiah and was made very welcome. I had not realised it was a celebratory concert and the choir's last in the old Civic Centre.

Q: Can you describe the benefit you find in choral singing?

A: I do love singing with the choir. I do not play an instrument and other than singing I don't consider myself to have any musical talent at all and cannot read music. I was very pleased to discover that although useful these things are not essential. Over the years I have improved and learned a lot about breathing, enunciation and the difference between a quaver and a crotchet. Singing releases tension and helps you to forget your worries. I absolutely love it and can't believe I waited so long before starting. 

Q: What are your most memorable moments, from rehearsals or concerts?

A: We do sing a wide variety of music and it is not all to my taste. I think my favourite was a selection of Opera Choruses. They were all quite well known and familiar to me and that performance was pure joy. The most memorable concert was The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins. I found this so difficult to sing as emotions took over. We sang this again at Waterside Theatre and it wasn't any easier but it is a quite wonderful piece of music. One of the scary moments was in an American themed concert where we sang a song with a very fast moving and difficult ending. It was touch and go whether we would all finish at the same time but luckily we did manage it.

Q: How would you describe the atmosphere at Aylesbury Festival Choir rehearsals?

A: We are a friendly bunch and rehearsals are very relaxed. I felt totally overwhelmed at first and thought I would never be able to perform. I never thought of giving up though - each week I was expecting to be told that I wasn't good enough, sounded horrible and be told to leave! That did not happen and I managed to get through my first concert unscathed. After the initial sheer terror (I could hardly see my score my hands were shaking so much) I calmed down and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Q: You are now on the choir Committee, so why did you volunteer to get involved?

A: I joined the committee a few years ago, there was a vacancy and being nosey I wanted to know what went on behind the scenes. Now, as the Treasurer I get to meet everyone when I take the subs and sell tickets. This has helped me to feel more useful and at home.

Carol Singing At Christmas  

The choir continues its tradition of carol singing in various venues at Christmas including retirement homes and local stores such as Tesco shown below in December 2015.

Singing carols in Tesco December 2015
AFC singing carols in Tesco December 2015

Video below by Gillian Walker taken in Tesco December 2013.

Aylesbury Festival Choir montage
Photo Gallery  

Aylesbury Festival Choir singing Fauré’s Requiem at the November 2015 concert.

After the interval Thame Children’s Choir and Aylesbury Festival Ensemble joined us for Rutter’s Mass of the Children.
Commemorating WW1 at Avondale Care Home - August 2014 (below).  
An AFC flashmob in Friars Square (below).  

James Davey rehearsing the choir in the Methodist Church (below).  
Testing the acoustics at the new Waterside Theatre in 2010 (below).  
Testing the accoustics at Waterside Theatre
Gallery medley